Hair cut? No, I’m good.
It is the Ides of February.
A time to honor the she-wolf who cared for Romulus and Remus.
To celebrate the fading winter – we can but hope – and the fecundity of the coming spring!
So….run naked through the streets and howl to the heavens!
And if you want to give that special little red-haired girl a Valentine, that’s cool, too.
So, it is Saint Patrick’s Day once again, a curious religious-turned-secular celebration which in its modern incarnation owes far less to fact than fancy. Still, it gives those who need it an excuse to hoist a pint and dream of leprechaun gold and other Hibernian stereotypes which have little if anything to do with a saint who wasn’t even Irish. The facts are, Patrick—aka Patricius—was, as his name attests, a well-born Romano-Briton, kidnapped from Wales and raised as an indentured shepherd across the Irish Sea. When he escaped his captivity, he became a priest, in time returning to Eire as bishop and evangelist to the heathen Celts.
Arguably the most famous bit of blarney connected with Patricius is the story of him driving all the Irish snakes into the sea. That there never were any Irish snakes in the first place proved a minor inconvenience to the hagiographers. It was the Dark Ages, after all. They were dealing in myth and metaphor, in selling the Faith to the masses with broad strokes and simple symbolic tales.
Never let the truth get in the way of a good sales pitch.
But, in the truth they so blithely ignored lay something far more insidious. To understand exactly what was going on, we must take a step back, to a time before the one God replaced the Many. A time when Druids held sway and Dragons ruled.
Learned men and women, the Druids were the moral compass of the people. They were also blessed with the ability to converse with all manner of creature, including Dragons. They looked into Dragon eyes and saw a part of the oneness of nature: as with tree and spring, deer and human, so too with Dragons. They recognized the Dragons were old before time with spirits indwelling and immortal. Like the stones beneath their feet, they could roar with joy, speak, and sing. As keepers of their people’s justice, faith, and wisdom, Druids formed an intimate bond with the Dragons of Prydain, Cymru, Brittany, Eire, and the outer isles, receiving both guidance and instruction from their long-lived associates. The Druids shared their knowledge with kith and kin, and, in the process, Dragons became the most powerful creature in all Celtic lore. They represented the entirety of creation, from the rolling solidity of hill and mountain to the sinuous turn of river and stream. To a people who honored the eternal unity of the universe, no being could be more magnificent.
When Constantine obliterated the separation of Church and State in the 4th century, any previous laissez-faire attitude towards Pagans vanished, and the Christian notion of Dragons as demons straight from Hell was fine-tuned into the strictest article of faith. To Medieval minds, draconic physique not only made them perfect models for Lucifer’s minions but also linked them to Satan in his Serpent garb, tempting humanity to sin. (Note: A look at Genesis suggests that the Serpent was actually a Dragon—certainly a legged reptile—who only lost his limbs after that little kerfuffle with the apple. Gnostic texts, particularly On the Origin of the World, are much kinder, casting him as the descendent of Zoe [Life], the “instructor,” and “wisest of all creatures.” This more pro-Dragon take may have affected the Church’s decision to label Gnostics as heretics. But that’s another story.)
To anatomy and temperament add their association with the God-less Pagans and Dragons became the peerless targets of an increasing number of fanatics. Would-be saints and tin-pot heroes were lining up around the block, scripture and swords at the ready, as Dragon slaying became a quick—if dangerous—path to fame, fortune, and heavenly reward.
This was the stage upon which Patricius played, the script which informed his legend. No real snakes in Eire? No matter. There were Druids and Dragons, beings as figuratively serpentine as Satan himself. For the Patrician mission to succeed and the Church to claim ascendancy, one way or another both had to be eliminated. So Druids and Dragons fell under siege, their sacred springs and blessed woods seized in the name of the new God. No one knows how much blood was spilt in their defense—record-keeping gets a little sloppy when fighting for one’s life—but tales from sidhe and weyr speak of the Dark Times, “when rivers ran red.” Among the survivors, a band of adventurous Dragons emigrated to the New World (“driven into the sea”), while others retreated beyond the veil, dwelling in the land of the fey until the human madness passed. For centuries, the only reminder of Ireland’s rich draconic history lay in the verdant hue of her hills. From a dracophile’s perspective, Patricius left the isle much poorer than he found it.On March 17th, take a moment between sips of emerald lager and think back on the dear price our scaly friends paid—and continue to pay—simply for being themselves.
Back in darkly superstitious – and Dragon-rich – 7th-century England,
there lived a very devout princess named Etheldreda. She was, by all accounts, a beautiful woman, and learned, to boot. In her younger years, she was fond of necklaces and beads, beautiful baubles of every description. While such finery was befitting a young royal expected to play a role in the political chess-game of the day, it was less apt for the saintly abbess she became once she’d extricated herself from not one but two unconsummated marriages and was party to numerous miracles. (Some say getting out of her connubial relationships a virgin was her greatest miracle of all!)
Etheldreda, aka Audrey, died in 679 in her early 40s (39-45, exact dates of birth were sketchy back then), young by modern standards. In the end, she succumbed to a great growth on her neck, which she attributed to divine judgment on her frivolous, necklace-loving youth. In recognition of this – and St Audrey’s pious legacy – St Audrey’s Fairs have become an annual tradition. Morris Dancers kick up their heels and colorful stalls are festooned with baubles and beads of less than stellar quality – downright tawdry, in fact – the word itself a bastardization of St Audrey.
As every Dracophile knows, Dragons have a warm place in their fiery hearts for baubles, tawdry or not. It is only fitting that, during the Month of the Dragon, we tip our hats to St Audrey and her deliciously tacky fairs. Thus, on October 16th, we celebrate Gaudy Bauble Day, a time to go to a tag sale or flea market or five-and-dime, and find a charming sparkly for your Dragon (or yourself). Remember, Dragons understand that their keeping is expensive, and so value the giving more than the cost. Gaudy Bauble Day is a celebration of the cheap and flashy – and a good time to do some early Yule shopping, too.
It is the Eve of Samhain.
The veil between the worlds is thinning and the Month of the Dragon is coming to a close. What better time to weave a tale to curl every hair on a Dragon-lover’s head: a tale of persecution, demonization, exile, and near extinction. A tale of the Dark Times and the hope given Dragons in the Otherworld.
The Dark Times, though starting in the Near East, are today considered European in temperament and scope. It all began with the advent of the Common Era and Christianity replacing Dragon-friendly pagan beliefs. Scaled, with calid breath, our friends were suddenly transformed forces of nature into the minions of the Devil, personae which put them squarely in the sights of every knight and would-be saint from Palestine to the Gulf of Bothnia.
By the Age of Chivalry, Dragon Quest was the sport du jour, with many a young knight breaking his bones in the pursuit of their elusive quarry. Nine times out of ten, the creatures actually slain not true Dragons (TDs were far too clever and fey to be caught by bumbling disbelievers), with marsh drachs and slow-witted fen flappers the most common victims. In fact, even King Pellinore’s ravaging beast fame was, by all accounts, not a Dragon but a Loch Worm, one of the least sociable pseudo species.
Still, the anti-Dragon sentiments and assaults on weyrs (especially during hatching time) took a heavy toll on the enchantments. The great forests they relied upon for food and haven were felled to make room for towns and fields; the sacred groves and holy wells which illumined the ley lines were replaced by churches and shrines of the new religion, Christianity. Magic was fading from the Old World, leaving little room or need for Dragons save as legendary curiosities, much like the Faerie folk, Silkes, Unicorns, and the very rare Fivergriffs.
Even Celtic lands, Dragon havens for centuries, were no longer safe. Their Druidic allies were struggling for their own existence and any association with Dragons greatly increasing their peril. Without friends, enchantment choices in an increasingly hostile world became increasingly limited.
In the tenth century, apocryphal tales about the coming end of days stoked public fears beyond reason. This was a time when the Antichrist and his creatures were very real beings bringing very real torment. It took only a little fine-tuning of Sabbath sermons and the “divine” law of the land to raise apocalyptic specters and make Dragons anathema from one end of the continent to the other.
Fight or flight were the choices at hand. And while a few Dragons stood their ground, more saw the wisdom in retreat, emigrating across the Atlantic to North America or, as was more common, being welcomed into the mystical Otherworld by the Faerie. There Dragons stayed, watchers still, seen by a few keen-sighted kindred spirits, especially at Samhain. For on October 31, the veil between the world of the mystical and the world of humans, thins, and travel between the two is, while not always common, at least possible.
Fortunately, the worst anti-Dragon attitudes of the Dark Times are a relic of the past; Dragons have returned to the everyday world in all their glory. No one is sure, even now, what the tipping point was that induced Dragons to come out of the mists. New Agers suggest that it is connected to the new millennium, while Neo-Darwinists lean towards the need for self-preservation in the wake of unprecedented global warfare and human population explosions. Certainly, the late-Victorian Celtic/Druid resurgence helped pave the way by softening public attitudes toward our spiky-wiky friends. Whatever the cause, we have all benefited immensely from their return, for we are blessed to share in the Dragon Renaissance.
So, when you are out trick-or-treating tomorrow night, keep your mind open and your eyes peeled. And remember, if it is true that Dragons need us, it is a greater truth that we need them more.
Have you had a Samhain/Halloween Dragon encounter? Please share!
This is your last chance contribute a Month of the Dragon comment and put your name in the hat for a chance at a signed copy of my book, The Dragon Keeper’s Handbook. The drawing will be tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. (EST), and the winner will be announced here tomorrow night.
Baubles, Bangles, and St. Audrey’s Fair: October 15-17.
Back in the 7th century – in the thick of the draconic Dark Times – there was an East Anglian princess names Ethelreda, a k a Audrey. The secular life did not please her (or her three sisters, for that matter), so she looked to the Church, and took a vow of virginity. Though not poverty: Audrey was know for her fondess of trinkets and baubles and lace finery. But we will retun to that later.
As a princess in the 600s, the promise to remain virginal did not prevent her from being married off – twice. This was the way of the times, when the affections (and bodies) of royal daughters were used as chips at the political casino. Though her first husband respected Audrey’s vow to his (early) dying day, her second was not so understanding. Her new spouse, the King of Northumbria, soon tired of living together as brother and sister, and pressed the local bishop to release his wife from her vows. When he would not, the king, pressed his affections on Audrey, anyway. She fled to Ely, there to enjoy the protection of the Church, establish an abbey, and was, in time, canonized.
But let’s return to Audrey’s love of finery. Every year, in celebration of St. Audrey, the people of Ely would hold a fair which, in time, became one of the premier fetes in Medieval England. In honor of Audrey’s love of baubles, bangles, and gemstones, many of the wares for sale were inexpensive trinkets, the sort of thing which abounds at many ‘craft’ fairs today.
Among Dragon keepers, this has become a marvelous time to go treasure draconic troves, to celebrate their Dragons’ love of sparklies, and gift their charges’ with a shiny trinket that will please but not break the bank. Though the fictional likes of Smaug and Fafnir have made Dragons synonymous with rapacious greed among the ignorant, the fact is, Dragons can be very understanding about the human financial condition. True, a soft bed of gold is delightful and metals are used in their nests to conduct heat and keep clutches at optimum temperature. Yet, they have come to appreciate the thought as much as the object. If chosen and given with affection, the faux sparklies found at this weekend at Audrey’s fairs (or any other autumnal crafty gathering) are appreciated as much as if you’d lifted the Crown Jewels from the tower.
Go out, have fun, and gift with an open heart.
What is your Dragon’s favorite sparkly?